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The Killer (Die xue shuang xiong) (1989)

  Directed by: John Woo
Written by: John Woo
Starring: Yun-Fat Chow, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh
Links: The Killer on the IMDb
Genre: Action

This movie gets: 10.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"One that makes me proud to be Asian" - a review by em_fiction

John Woo has a very mixed filmography. Yun-Fat Chow also has quite a mixed filmography. But "mixed" isn't the same as "random"; there is an actual pattern that can be drawn out from this. What these two men have in common, and a lot of other Asian actors/filmmakers for that matter, is that the work they did in their home country was a hell of a lot better. One of the last Hong Kong films Woo and Fat did before their major switch to Hollywood was The Killer, a film which marked the pinnacle of both Woo and Fat's careers in Hong Kong.

Fat plays Jeffrey, a compulsive but compassionate professional assassin who takes on an assignment to kill some mob scum at a nightclub. A beautiful young singer, Jennie (Sally Yeh), one of the club's regulars, is caught in the bloodbath crossfire and is blinded as a result, while Jeffrey just makes it out with a few wounds.

Moving on six months, Jennie, now a blind singer at the same club, comes across Jeffrey again but not aware of who he really is, and the two befriend one another and start a relationship. Alas, things get stirred up again when Jeffrey goes on his last assignment assassinating a greedy tycoon. Now Li (Danny Lee), a straight, determined cop, is hot on Jeffrey's trail, along with a bunch of mobsters who all want him dead.

What can I say... this film has all the ingredients of a perfect crime drama: an engrossing and exciting plot which keeps you on the edge of your seat, incredibly endearing and charismatic characters, particularly the leads, a script, written by Woo himself, which is witty, intelligent, and fully condenses the film with thought and substance, and finally, some very very awesome gunfights and action scenes.

The action does play a substantial role in the film as a whole. John Woo is known for his action, and The Killer is a perfect example of why this is so. Woo takes a lot of care in staging the action sequences and gunfights, ensuring he doesn't cross that line where all the substance gets lost in a sea of bang bangs, and the high body count is no longer justifiable.

Woo's also very sharp with his slow motion, a technique which was disappointingly somewhat overused in Woo's Face/Off (1997). Despite that though, he uses it effectively in The Killer, optimising the technique's main purpose, which is to transform the usual frantic nature associated with action scenes into the viewpoint of the prodigal killer; a way for us to see how calm, controlled and collected Jeffrey is in handling the gunfight, as opposed to his enemy's unrestrained panicking. Woo defeated the purpose of the technique in Face/Off by only using it to make the action look "cool".

The plot is laced with clever little scenes, like one where Jeffrey and Li are at gunpoint with one another, but pretend to be old college buddies as to not freak out blind Jennie. The film is as much a thought-provoking take on love, friendship, loyalty, trust, etc. as it is a killer shoot-em-up picture, and it hasn't been since Die Hard (1988) that a film packed with this much action could possibly deliver any more core to the audience.

The Killer can be neatly summed up in that one line Jeffrey uses to describe a particular gun: "Easy to pick up, hard to put down."

em_fiction gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 1 Sep 2004

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